Friday, September 9, 2016

Sausage Party

Deliriously surreal, Sausage Party is a Pixar animated feature for adults.  The movie is not really funny -- although I laughed out loud a half-dozen times -- but it's fantastically inventive and, in its own way, strangely profound.  The film's premise is that consumer goods are sentient and have their own religions, philosophical beliefs, and erotic agendas.  Needless to say the wieners long to be united with the buns and the film ends with the crassest possible version of Marx's fetish theory of commerce -- a supermarket erupts into an orgy between the produce, the dry goods, the noodles, and every other imaginable product.  Capitalism, while disenchanting some parts of the world, supplants practical utility value with a strange reified eros -- when the brightly packaged products begin to copulate with one another, we see enacted the values of the consumer society in which we live.  This is an over-complicated way of saying that Sausage Party is an exercise in surrealism, primarily designed as a vehicle for ueber-raunchy jokes in the mode of TV shows like Family Guy that, nonetheless, has something powerful, and, even, emotionally gripping to say about our relationship as consumers to the items that we buy and use.

The premise of the film, seemingly a collaboration between some skilled animators and Seth Rogen with Jonah Hill, is that intelligent food items believe that their selection by the consumer will result in their translation into a heaven of bliss.   This faith has been inculcated in the perishable foods by the immortals -- imperishables such as booze and other canned items that know the terrible truth.  The "noble lie" told to the perishables is embodied in a song that the foods sing to one another about their ascension into paradise when they are purchased by customers of the grocery store, huge and powerful beings that the perishables call "gods."  A wiener named Frank discovers that the food's faith in a glorious hereafter in the realm of the gods is a lie -- this is communicated to him by a wise bottle of firewater speaking in a Native American accent.  Frank's fellow wieners are sold on "red, white, and blue day" (that is, the fourth of July) and skinned, boiled alive, and butchered.  One of those sausages escapes, wanders through the nightmarish city, and, ultimately, reaches the grocery where, with Frank, he engineers a revolt of the merchandise against the customers purchasing those items.  The foods and other mercantile goods rise in a revolt and butcher the humans in a spectacular and disturbing battle -- all of this is worthy of Rabelais, not funny so much as grotesque and alarming.  There's no way that the story can end happily within the limits of a conventional narrative -- merchandise exists to be used and sold and, of course, although the human shoppers have been massacred, there is no warrant that others will not appear and destroy our plucky, rebellious heroes.  The film solves this narrative conundrum by exploding the fourth wall and revealing that the animated characters are merely puppets for real actors -- people like Jesse Franco, Katherine Wiig (she plays the horny, but faithful bun), Seth Rogen, Danny McBride, Salma Hayek, Michael Cira and others (the film has all-star cast of voice-actors). Under the influence of a flickering aurora borealis induced by bath salts, the besieged merchandise enters a portal to another dimension, presumably where the voice actors portraying the various products will be reunited with their souls, that is the real people impersonating the cartoon figures. 

None of the consumer products are particularly endearing and this is, perhaps, a flaw in the film -- we don't really care about any of the protagonists.  But this film is satiric in tone and not Finding Dory or Toy Story; accordingly, the harsher psychedelic affect of the movie seems to me to be justified.  Sausage Party is not afraid to take chances -- I saw the movie on September 9, 2016 and noted that there is a clear parody of the aftermath of the 9-11 terrorist attack on New York about twenty minutes into the film.  A bunch of products get dropped from a cart and a bag of flour explodes -- we see the animated groceries staggering through an encroaching mist of dust, images that inevitably recall the collapse of the Twin Towers.  Parts of the film have a Human Centipede creepiness; an escaped wiener encounters a used condom who gives a horrific account of his torture by humans and there is a roll of toilet paper so traumatized by what he has to do that he can't really talk.  A douche-bag is the film's villain -- he loses his fluid but replaces it with tequila and fruit juice and engorged with that liquid darts around threatening the other characters.  There' are several homosexual subplots including a luscious lady taco shell's desire for the heroine, a plucky, tough-talking bun (voiced by Kristin Wiig) and a sex scene between an Arab falafel and a Jewish bagel (the bagel imitates the prosody of Woody Allen but is voiced by Ed Norton).  The final orgy between the products is a sight to behold and there are a number of gory scenes dramatizing the way that we treat our food.  The ethnic foods act according to broad (and broadly offensive) caricatures and the movie delights in being politically incorrect.  The closing titles parody product labels and have a tremendous pop art kick -- make sure you stay for, at least, the first couple minutes of the end-credits; in some ways, the Warhol-style labels with the names of the creative staff and actors are some of the best things in the movie.  It's an interesting film and, although some people will be appalled by it, I think it can be recommended.

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